Tag Archives: xenophobia

Mária Schmidt on George Soros, the grave digger of the left, Part II

Yesterday I began dissecting Mária Schmidt’s latest propaganda piece,“The Grave Digger of the Left,” which offers up second-hand conspiracy theories about George Soros’s philanthropic endeavors. In the second part of my analysis I will concentrate on the “Hungarian experience” with “Sorosism,” as she calls Soros’s “ideology mix.”

In Schmidt’s view, Hungary was a guinea pig for Soros, who learned the tools of his evil trade in the country of his birth. It was in Hungary that he figured out the kinds of organizations worth investing in, organizations that would then “serve his interests.” He quickly discovered that Prime Minister József Antall and his successor, Péter Boross, both of MDF, were not willing to be partners in his shady schemes. So, Soros had to concentrate on liberal intellectuals in the social sciences and in the cultural sphere in general. He used decoys like programs for the Roma and providing medical supplies to hospitals to lure people into his camp.

He was so successful that by today “left” in Hungary equals “Soros.” All of his pet projects have been adopted by the Hungarian liberals and socialists: political correctness, the environment, feminism, same sex marriage, support of migrants, legalization of prostitution, etc.

Schmidt, who begins her essay with a quotation from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” further exhibits her familiarity with Western pop culture by comparing Soros to “the evil but super intelligent Silva” in the Bond film Skyfall, who “with obsessive and missionary zeal aims at world domination.” Soros’s results, she admits, have been spectacular. For example, “as everybody knows, the network of Soros’s civilians was behind the colorful revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and the Arab spring.” In fact, at one point Schmidt charges that Soros himself boasted about his success in creating “a Soros Empire out of the Soviet Union.” I don’t know how we all missed the “fact” that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the handiwork of George Soros. Now, according to Schmidt, Soros’s target is the European Union itself.

Mária Schmidt’s “evil but super intelligent Silva”

At this point we get to the real reason Schmidt wrote this essay. Viktor Orbán’s vicious anti-migrant rhetoric has been extremely effective, with the overwhelming majority of Hungarians now the most xenophobic group in all of Europe. The hatred Orbán planted in Hungarian souls has taken root. The challenge for the Hungarian government is how to keep nurturing this hatred. By now there are no migrants around, and there is fear in government circles that this hatred may wither over time. And if it withers, support for Orbán may wither as well.

The government has therefore begun to personalize the migrant crisis, coming up with enemies who can in one way or another be tied to it. Soros, of course, tops the list. Time and again Orbán has blamed “the migrant crisis” on George Soros. Since Central European University was founded by George Soros and some of the NGOs receive small amounts of money from the Hungarian-American financier, they can be targeted. And Brussels is an old stand-by. Whatever the problem, Brussels is always at fault.

To xenophobic Hungarians the very mention of outside influence or pressure on the country makes them flock to Orbán as their only defense against this “foreign invasion.” And since Viktor Orbán has as his overarching goal to remain in power regardless of the cost to the country and its people, this goal is well served by calling attention in every way possible to the dangers foreigners (migrants as well as international capitalists) pose to the Hungarian way of life.

Central European University is in the government’s crosshairs because, as Schmidt puts it, the university is Soros’s “replenishing base” for liberal cadres in Hungary and elsewhere. An illiberal state, one would think, cannot allow such a place to exist within its borders. But Schmidt doesn’t go that far, most likely because she knows that the tug of war between the Orbán government and CEU won’t end with closing the university in Budapest. So she is satisfied to state the lie that the government, by insisting that the same rules apply to CEU as to other Hungarian universities, only wants to send the message that George Soros “isn’t omnipotent and invulnerable.”

Her final shots are directed not just at Central European University but also at the kinds of universities that exist in English-speaking countries and that are so highly valued worldwide. She tells us how enthusiastic she was when CEU moved to Budapest. Many people, herself included, looked upon it as a sign of the end of the old university system. Soon enough, however, they realized that CEU didn’t contribute to pluralism within the social sciences. On the contrary, it became a supporter of “post-communists.” Instead of employing the old Hungarian Marxists, the university imported western ones. “Discarded American, Canadian, Israeli, Western European Marxists found secure positions for a few pleasant years in the departments of CEU,” she charges. And just as they became disillusioned with CEU, over the years Schmidt and her ideological comrades became disillusioned with Anglo-Saxon type universities in general. Now that she and her comrades speak English and are well informed about the world, unlike in the Kádár years, they know about the intolerance in American and British universities where they don’t want to listen to voices contrary to their liberal tenets. Hungarians “don’t want to have ‘safe spaces’ for those at CEU who don’t want to listen to others.”

Schmidt’s blanket labeling of all those who teach at CEU as “discarded Marxists” shows an ideological blindness that is appalling, especially from someone who has academic pretensions. And her reference to the “safe spaces” inside the walls of CEU is outright frightening. If Orbán, Schmidt, and their ideological partners keep going down the road they embarked on in 2010, the Hungarian younger generation who, according to Schmidt’s own admission, has been poisoned by Soros, will find “safe spaces” outside the country. We are getting close to this point.

April 17, 2017

Joseph Forgas: The disdainful leader–Planting primitive propaganda in fertile soil

Although Orbán’s communication seems increasingly shrill, much of the government propaganda consciously relies on manipulating the damaged Hungarian national identity. In Hungary future generations will suffer the  psychological consequences of the combatant, anti-Western, hostile public narrative  – says the world-renowned social psychologist  Joseph P. Forgas, in Hungarian Forgács József,  who has for the past five years been studying the Fidesz communication strategy built upon Hungarian national character.

What does Viktor Orbán know or think about the Hungarian people, when he declares war not only on the Western world, but slowly on common sense too?

A nation’s national identity is determined by the history and the culture of its inhabitants, an essential element of which is how we interpret the world and how we see ourselves. The Hungarian national character is in many ways fundamentally distorted and flawed, the causes of which are deeply rooted. For many centuries, Hungarian history consisted of setbacks, defeats, and crushed revolutions. These failures were accompanied by a typical narrative, which, according to social psychology research, is characterized by a marked victim mentality, resignation, self-pity, blaming others and an absence of accepting any responsibility. This pessimistic mental representation is compensated for by an often grandiose, unrealistic and romanticized nation-image, which visualizes a world-beating role for the Hungarians. A typical example is the bizarre system of selecting of “hungaricums”. There is no other country where the national identity is so fragile that it has to be bolstered in such a blatant manner and where an official committee decides that we should be proud of – for example, of a Hungarian salami or sausages, as if such goods did not exist elsewhere. Apparently the Hungarian national character needs such crutches to maintain its brittle self-esteem.

The Fidesz communication in the last five years has manipulated this damaged, self-pitying national identity by using demagogic and populist strategies to create non-existent enemies to blame for every failure. Such strategies can work because of the absence of a sufficiently well-informed and autonomous middle class who see through this. Actually, when Orbán speaks about the middle class, he means something completely different. He seeks to create a clientele dependent on the state, but a real middle class is characterized by independent thinking, by success achieved through individual effort and autonomous thinking and behavior.

To what extent can a defeated nation improve its self-esteem if it demonizes the most unfortunate? While the dead bodies of hundreds of refugees are washed up on the waterfront of Lampedusa, we are consulting with the government whether these asylum seekers are terrorists.

Given that xenophobia, ethnocentrism and mistrust are much stronger in Hungary than in surrounding countries, such dishonest and misleading communication can indeed work here for a while. It is remarkable that the Prime Minister seems to believe that his followers are so unintelligent that even the transparently manipulative intentions of the “national consultation” will go unnoticed. The term “national consultation” is itself a lie. It is not “national”, but party political propaganda at taxpayer’s expense, and not a “consultation” because as a poll it is completely useless. A first-year student would fail if he/she produced such a questionnaire, because this poll doesn’t meet any criteria for a usable survey. Perhaps this may be the point when the remaining Fidesz faithful will slowly realize that they have been cheated and that their leader simply looks down on them.

Isn’t there a risk that the political left will also be forced to embrace the emotional communication, to simplify and aggressively convey their message? Can a sensible and intelligent debate be conducted with so much “noise” around?

I think the Left has to find another way to address voters. There is great need for patriotism and national pride in Hungary given our damaged and insecure sense of national identity, and this can be addressed in more acceptable ways. It is hard to understand why the opposition has completely ceded the concept of patriotism to the Right, they seem scared to speak on this topic. Yet there is scope for a positive, patriotic approach from the opposition, that unlike Orbán, emphasizes our true historical values. One could be justifiably proud of Hungary’s thousand year history as an assimilative, integrative culture absorbing many different groups. Historically, the culture and strength of Hungary have always been enhanced by the assimilation of countless minorities. For example, although our national hero Petőfi had not one drop of ethnic Hungarian blood, he became Hungarian, as did many other great figures of our history. The divisive, ethnocentric politics of Fidesz looks for enemies everywhere, yet our thousand-year history is about exactly the opposite: about the success of inclusion and assimilation as a means to survival.

We lack solidarity not only toward “foreigners”, we are not solidarity with each other. The nurse with the educator, the bank debtor with the students. Is this discord associated with the Hungarian national character, and can it be used or abused respectively?     

A typical feature of successive dictatorships is that they expect their citizens to keep out of public affairs and to show no group solidarity. This has a strong cultural tradition in Hungary, the Kadar regime worked the same way. This is what “we got used to”, the lack of solidarity has become a distinctive Hungarian feature. The results of one of our representative national surveys show that Hungarians see of the world as fundamentally unfair, they are convinced that public life is not worth participating in, that people can have no control over the affairs of the world, and so the suffering of others are none of their concerns.

If we have nothing to do with the western cultures, nor do we care about out compatriots, is it worth opening toward the East, for example, hard-working Chinese man and women?       

The so-called “opening to the east” is an entirely demagogic and doomed conception. Such a romanticized Eastern ‘Turanian’ (ancient totem eagle) nationalism was first invented in the Horthy era and is now revisited. There is no historical basis for this, and, of course, there is no viable eastern alternative either. People in the East would also like to live like the Westerners, they are trying to adapt the successful social and political models created by the Western civilizations. There is simply no viable alternative to Western liberal democracy and the market economy. Western societies are the best place to live in and the world’s richest and most influential countries all follow this model. Incidentally, all Hungarian emigrants also head west, and not east. The various eastern role models named by Orbán have nothing to do with each other, except their autocratic orientation. It is foolish to say that they represent a viable future. It seems that Orbán fundamentally misunderstands the Western world, underestimates the power and adaptive ability of Western democracies. He has never lived in the West, the concepts of democracy and the market economy are alien to him. It is a national tragedy that such a half-educated man, a typical product of the late Kádár system now leads the country, who unfortunately understands only autocracy.

And the fight. As if he defines himself with that alone.

Every authoritarian regime, everyone with a dictatorial tendency needs enemies to define his profile, to make himself important. The Fascist and Communist periods were also defined by the constant struggle against real or imagined enemies. For the first time in 500 years, Hungary does not need to fight with anyone, we have no real enemies, we finally were able to join Western Europe, and are free to develop autonomously. It is a national tragedy that instead taking advantage of this historic opportunity, Orbán has decided to turn against the West, and so leads the country into a hopeless dead-end street. Our set of values are also moving away from western world, and away from our immediate neighbors as well, as several Tárki surveys show. The national consultation, the debate about the death penalty are nothing more than manipulative distractions from the growing number of scandals, the endemic corruption and the ever more transparent lies. One can only hope that the majority of voters will finally wake up and realize how badly cheated they were.

What could be the long-term consequences of the Orbán world? What kind of psychological legacy could these years leave us with?

The economy can be revived, the institutional system can be renewed in a couple of years, but the psychological consequences of creating such a distorted mental representations about the world may handicap Hungary for many generations. My friend András Inotai summed it up: there is a spiritual genocide going on in Hungary right now, and I think there is a lot of truth in this.

In a country which happens to be already rather backward compared to prevailing European culture and values, Orbán’s dishonest propaganda capitalizes on an enduring sense of inferiority and lack of self-confidence, in order to stir up feelings of hostility against the West, also increasing xenophobia and ethnocentrism. Democracy presupposes a certain kind of individualistic and autonomous mental view about the world and corresponding psychological attitudes. For democracy to work well, citizens must adopt a self-confident, independent, rational and responsible mind-set and a sound national identity grounded in reality. What is happening now, fundamentally undermines the future opportunities for such a development. This is extremely irresponsible and is likely to cause continuing damage for the nation.

This interview, conducted by Anna Kertész, appeared on May 16, 2015 in Vasárnapi Hírek. It was translated by a member of our community, “Observer.”

♦ ♦ ♦

—Joseph Forgas is a social psychologist, professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. He was born in 1947 in Budapest and emigrated to Australia at the age of 22. He earned two doctorates at Oxford University, lived in England, the US and Germany for several years. “As a Hungarian it is a huge disappointment to me that Hungary seems to turn away from the democratic values ​​and the free market economy of the West and seeks a kind of authoritarian, dictatorial alternative.”

Forgas

To understand how this could happen requires a socio-psychological approach – what shaped the Hungarian mentality, and why does the otherwise transparently demagogic and primitive Fidesz propaganda find such fertile ground here? “- says the professor.

His main area of ​​research is examining the role of emotions in social behavior. One of the dominant and internationally recognized figures in the field, his experiments contributed significantly to our understanding of the influence of emotional states on the formation of stereotypes and the development of social processes.

He published about 26 books and countless scientific articles and chapters; in recognition of his contribution, he was awarded the Order of Australia, the Humboldt Research Prize, the Rockefeller Award and was elected member of the Australian and of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Before 1989 his work could not be published, however, since then several of his books have been translated into Hungarian, and his books are used in the teaching of social psychology, for example, his book The Psychology of Social Interaction. He visits Hungary regularly, and follows Hungarian public life closely; in the last few years, since the rise of Fidesz’ power he has been studying the role of Hungarian national identity in political communication.

The anti-immigration propaganda has its limits: The latest Tárki poll

There are some days, mind you not too many, when one starts to believe that Hungary’s future is not as bleak as we are inclined to think. It looks as if Hungarians, once they’ve had time to reflect, are not so easily manipulated.

The reason for optimism is a new Tárki poll on xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment. The company has been measuring the level of anti-foreign attitudes on a yearly basis, but this year they decided to conduct a second survey after the regular April one. The sociologists wanted to measure the effect, if any, of the intense anti-immigration campaign by the Orbán government. And here is the surprise and cause for some hope: the number of those who categorically reject the acceptance of any and all immigrants has dropped from 46% to 39% in two months. At the same time, the number of those who would make their decision on an individual basis has grown from 45% to 56%. This is a surprising and very welcome development, which shows that the enormous effort and considerable amount of money the Orbán government spent on inciting hatred and xenophobia hasn’t been as effective as they expected. Like all “political products,” to use Gábor G. Fodor’s term, this particular political ploy also has its limits.

This development is especially surprising because one would assume that the arrival of thousands of refugees day after day would make a decidedly negative impression on the population. Most Hungarians know by now that the vast majority of the arrivals move on within days, but the fear lingers that one day they will be sent back to the country where they entered the European Union. And yet the outright, en bloc rejection of all migrants/refugees hasn’t spiked.

Tárki published their figures on anti-immigration sentiment between 1992 and July 2, 2015, which shows interesting fluctuations. It starts in 1992 with a low 15% of respondents who would not allow a single immigrant into the country. I assume that also included members of the Hungarian diaspora. In the first four years that number grew considerably, reaching 40% in 1995. It’s difficult to know the reasons for that steep increase. It might have been the very hard economic times that befell the country during these years; people who are poor usually don’t welcome newcomers. Also, in that period there was an influx of about 50,000 refugees from warring Yugoslav territories, which might have made a difference in public sentiment. From 1996 on, the numbers settled around 28-30%, except for the years of the first Orbán government (1998-2002). Viktor Orbán during this period was at odds with all of Hungary’s neighbors and several other countries, including the United States. His harsh rhetoric might have influenced public opinion. After 2002, the negative attitude toward immigrants subsided until 2011, when it began to climb again with the arrival of the second Orbán administration. It reached its peak at 46% in April 2014. Clearly, Orbán’s harsh anti-foreign rhetoric does make a difference, but if we can believe today’s figures, it has its limits.Tarki graphOf course, these figures are still very high. Let me give you a few figures from the United States where a 2014 poll showed that 46% of Americans thought that all immigrants should be welcomed to the United States. That’s up from 33% in 2010, 24% in 2007, and around 20% in the mid-1990s. Those who say that there should be no immigration whatsoever dropped to 19%. In May the Pew Research Center published data on the attitude toward immigration in seven European countries (France, Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Greece, Poland) which found very little enthusiasm for increased immigration and a great deal of support for less immigration. In Greece and Italy the opposition to immigration is very high: 86% and 80% respectively.

In Hungary, the rejection of Arabs is considerable: 76% would not allow them to settle in Hungary, although those people most likely don’t know that there are already a few thousand Muslims in the country, some of whom are citizens. Mind you, other Europeans also have an unfavorable opinion of Muslim minorities, varying from country to country, but even in tolerant Germany, France, and the UK the figures are high: 33%, 27%, and 26% respectively. Tárki didn’t release figures on Africans, but I assume that their negative numbers would be even higher than those for the Arabs.

The total rejection of immigrants is highest in the regions close to the Serb-Hungarian border where the migrants enter the country and lowest along the Austro-Hungarian border.

As far as the ideological makeup of the respondents is concerned, 54% of Jobbik sympathizers would close the door to all immigrants as opposed to 39% across the board. Unfortunately, we don’t have detailed information on Fidesz supporters or followers of the democratic parties. However, the Pew Research Center’s survey shows that in all seven countries studied, people who sympathize with the right are much more inclined to reject immigrants, while liberals and socialists are the most tolerant toward immigration in general.

As expected, education is a factor when it comes to the attitude toward immigrants. Only 13% of university graduates reject all immigrants’ acceptance in the country. Their rejection is also low among those who are planning to seek work abroad or who think of emigration: 12% and 17% respectively. These people can easily see themselves being disliked and/or discriminated against abroad, and therefore they sympathize with the plight of the arriving migrants. While people on the lower rungs of the economic scale are very much against immigration (43%), people of some means are a great deal less so (15%).

I left the most puzzling finding to last. Only 17% of those who attend church every week want to banish all immigrants. This is especially strange since the so-called historical churches have done practically nothing to alleviate the hardship of these migrants. Pope Francis can talk about compassion and charity, but his words don’t seem to resonate with the Hungarian high clergy or the so-called religious charitable organizations. On the other hand, it is possible that parish priests and local ministers, in response to the influx of migrants, called attention to Jesus’s teachings on the judgment of nations. The famous passage, Matthew 25, says that the Son of Man will divide the nations into righteous and accursed ones. On his right will be the righteous ones: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” On his left will be the accursed ones who left him hungry, thirsty and naked. They “will go away into eternal punishment” whereas the righteous will be rewarded with “eternal life.”

The fence “matches the brutal policies of Premier Orbán”

One of Viktor Orbán’s most successful political ploys, we often read, is to divert attention from the failings of his administration by bringing up new topics that dominate the news. So, the argument goes, last fall’s crisis that erupted after revelations that the U.S. had banned certain Hungarian officials from entering the United States due to corruption and this spring’s scandal of government involvement in the financial fraud of the Quaestor Group almost automatically led to the “creation” of the grave immigration crisis. Yes, the talking heads maintain, there is a serious immigration crisis in the western part of the European Union, but that is not the case in Hungary. Ninety-nine percent of those who cross the Serb-Hungarian border leave the country at the very first opportunity.

I am one of the few people who don’t subscribe to this theory. I am convinced that Viktor Orbán honestly believes that Hungary should remain uni-cultural and that the mixing of cultures brings only strife and conflict. Commentators tend to forget that already in August 2014, while delivering a speech to the country’s ambassadors, Orbán lashed out against immigration, stating that “the goal is to cease immigration altogether.”

Unfortunately, his own personal beliefs happen to coincide with the feelings of the majority of the Hungarian people. Orbán is a smart, if corrupt and immoral politician, who knows better than most people that the majority of Hungarians are xenophobic. Over the years, polling results unequivocally showed that Hungarians didn’t want to let immigrants into the country. They didn’t even want to have anything to do with “pirézek,” a nonexistent group of people. So, one doesn’t have to be a political genius to know that the “immigration card” is a sure bet. It will always work. Especially if it is presented in such a way that the population comes to believe that it is Viktor Orbán and his government who are defending them from a peril that threatens their way of life.

Such rhetoric can dramatically influence public sentiment, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s popularity increases in the next few months. This game is not about diverting attention but about regaining popularity and hence retaining power. Preferably for decades to come. Orbán always seems to be capable of coming up with clever new ideas to secure his position. Whether these moves are injurious to the country’s reputation or its position in the European Union interests him not at all. Simply put, he is ready to do anything to remain the prime minister of Hungary. And as long as the Hungarians swallow his ideas hook, line, and sinker, he will succeed at his game.

A lot of people on the left are skeptical about the polling results of Századvég and Nézőpont, and they are certainly correct when it comes to Nézőpont, but Századvég numbers are more reliable. Therefore, I don’t seriously question Századvég’s latest poll on the population’s reaction to the three billboards that the government created in order to incite Hungarians against immigrants. It turns out that the majority of Hungarians agree with the billboards’ messages. Eighty-five percent agreed that the immigrants must obey the laws of the country, which is no surprise at all. Seventy-five percent agreed that they have to respect Hungarian culture. Even the most controversial message, “If you come to Hungary, you can’t take away the jobs of Hungarians!” is supported by 59% of the population. In the case of the first two questions there is no discernible difference between pro-Fidesz and pro-Jobbik respondents on the one hand and supporters of parties of the left on the other. When it comes to taking jobs away, those who reject the message come only from the left. However disheartening it may be, the majority of the population supports this sickening campaign.

All of the non-Hungarian newspapers I looked at today disapproved of the way the Orbán government is handling the crisis. First of all, almost everybody agreed that the problem is European-wide and can be managed only by the joint effort of all the member states. In addition, almost all the newspapers decried the brutish methods employed by the Hungarian government. As Die Zeit says, the construction of the 175 km-long security fence “matches the brutal policies of Premier Orbán.”

The idea of building a wall was first suggested by László Toroczkai, a neo-Nazi who last year became the Jobbik mayor of a village close to the Serbian border. That was back in February. Once again, Fidesz is taking over a Jobbik idea. Admittedly, there are other walls and fences all over the world by now which, by the way, are no answer to migration. But in Hungary’s case sealing the border with Serbia is especially shameful. Twenty-six years ago, on June 27, 1989, Gyula Horn, the country’s foreign minister, along with his Austrian counterpart, cut the wire fence between the two countries to symbolize the beginning of a new era. The country allowed thousands of East German refugees to cross to Austria and freedom. Hungary also sent its own share of refugees to other countries in 1956, refugees who found sympathy, shelter, and eventually new homes abroad.

A funny comment on the wall by an "internet artist"

A comment on the fence by an “internet artist”

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić was “surprised and shocked,” and tomorrow at a Serbian-Hungarian summit he most likely will reiterate his reaction. He declared that Serbia will not follow Hungary’s example: “it will not build walls … and will not live in Auschwitz.”

As for the seriousness of the situation, opinions differ widely. Jan Schroth, head of the Czech office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), claims that the current situation is neither dramatic nor unusual. The only difference is that too many people are dying needlessly at the borders of the EU. Using IOM’s data, he alleges that in the first half of the year 100,000 refugees arrived, while last year the total number was 200,000. So, there is no appreciable increase in the numbers. In his opinion, “Europe with its population of 500 million could easily absorb one million immigrants over a number of years.”

A lot of economists would agree. The birthrate in European countries is very low, and hence their populations are aging rapidly. For the most part the immigrants are young, and they could contribute to economic and demographic growth. The Hungarian situation has been particularly bad as far as the country’s demographics are concerned. The last time the fertility rate was over 2, which would have kept the size of the population more or less stable, was in 1979. Since 1981 the natural change has been consistently in negative territory. In 1981 the country’s population was 10,700,000, while in 2014 it was only 9,849,000. This is an 8% decrease. To this figure we could add the almost half a million Hungarians who have left the country in the last ten years or so and yet remain on the census rolls. All efforts to change this trend have failed, and I see no other remedy than a gradual but determined policy of immigration. But for political purposes Viktor Orbán is doing everything in his power to prevent such a course of action.

Hate campaign against immigrants, rev. 2.0

The Hungarian government simply refuses to stop its campaign against immigrants despite the obvious failure of its national consultation effort. At the end of April the government announced its intention to spend 2 billion forints on poisoning the souls of Hungarians by mailing them a questionnaire with leading questions designed to incite hatred and fear of possible immigrants and refugees. When the commissioner for refugee affairs of the United Nations received a translation of the questionnaire, she could only gasp. Yes, she had heard about it and knew that it was bad, but when she actually read the questions she was shocked and “deeply concerned by the way the government increasingly vilifies people who have fled from war zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and who desperately need safety and protection in Hungary.” Yes, this government vilifies people who would need Hungary’s help, and it is not ashamed to show its true face to the world. It may even be proud of its tough “Hungarians first and only” stance. Viktor Orbán certainly doesn’t see anything wrong with his government’s behavior. He is convinced that his is the right way and that it is a position that Europe as a whole should follow.

Most observers think that Viktor Orbán is spreading “the bad name” of Hungary and Hungarians, some of whom are utterly ashamed of their prime minister, even of the fact that they belong to the same nation as he does. What will the world think of them? Well, some foreigners have already asked: how on earth could you elect such a man to be your prime minister? Or, how could you give him that much power? Especially the second time around? Or, why are you quiet, why don’t you send him somewhere where he will be far away from power and politics?

Well, the fact is that the vast majority of Hungarians didn’t fall for Orbán’s xenophobic campaign. That’s the good news. Eight million questionnaires were sent out, and thus far only 200,000 have been returned. Among them, I’d wager to say, given the mood of the country, several probably included unprintable remarks about Viktor Orbán and his government. At any event, a 2.5% response rate–and that by government calculations–is dismal, pretty close to what direct marketers can expect. To improve the stats, Hungarians can now answer the questionnaire online, and they will have two more months to do so. By the end it is possible that a much larger response figure will be announced, the accuracy of which, of course, we will not be able to ascertain. Nor will we know how they answered the questions.

Despite the poor response thus far, it looks as if the officials working in the prime minister’s office still think that they might be able to squeeze some political benefit out of this shameful topic. They switched into campaign mode to sell the original idea more aggressively. Perhaps their famous “communication” wasn’t effective enough, and if they turn up the volume a bit they will shift the mood of indifference to the anti-immigrant propaganda into one of frightened acceptance. They plan to use stronger language and better methods to increase Hungarians’ awareness of the dangers of immigrant hordes. They already tried hammering home the slogan that “Hungary should remain Hungarian,” but it didn’t have the desired effect. What about appealing to fears that immigrants will take the job of the natives? It looks as if this is the new scare tactic of the government.

During a press conference Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for public diplomacy and relations, announced that this new “information campaign” will also include plastering the country with anti-immigration posters. It didn’t take long for the Hungarian media to get hold of a photo of one such poster from a print shop that got the job of producing 333 large billboards with the message: “If you come to Hungary you cannot take away the jobs of Hungarians!” At first blush, this poster looks like a joke since would-be immigrants couldn’t possibly understand the text. The message is, I assume, directed at the locals. The population should realize that if Hungary accepts 700 or so political refugees their jobs might be in jeopardy. They should therefore band together and support the prime minister to prevent these alien, job-grabbing people from settling in Magyarorszag.

"If you come to Hungary you cannot take the jobs of Hungarians!"

“If you come to Hungary you cannot take the jobs of Hungarians!”

Yes, the hate campaign is on. There are two more posters  in the works, and Index learned that the government in this new campaign is concentrating on areas along the southern border where specific anti-immigrant messages will be sent. I’m not sure what they expect. Perhaps that the local inhabitants will chase the immigrants away or round them up to be taken into police custody. But if I were the government, I would be careful. All that hate might be translated into action, and one day a “true believer” might just shoot some of the people crossing the border in the dead of night, rationalizing his foul deed by saying that these people were either political or economic terrorists who had to be stopped, that–just like the prime minister–he was protecting the country he loves.

Spread of indifference and hate in Hungary

The events of the last few days have been shocking reminders that something has gone very wrong in Hungary in the last few years. Hungarian society has been poisoned by monstrous ideas. And it seems that the more the present government feels threatened, the more vicious it becomes in the hope of appealing to the beast in all of us.

Sometime ago I read about a study of the Orbán government’s social policy which appeared in the prestigious Journal of European Social Policy. It was written by a member of ELTE’s Faculty of Social Studies, a faculty whose existence has been threatened by the latest “university reforms.” She maintained that the present Hungarian government has no coherent social policy. One finds elements of neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and etatism, all at the same time. She came to the conclusion that “the only aim of the government is the punishment of the poor.” What an indictment.

In a recent editorial in HVG, “Hate the weaker!,” the author recalls those instances when the Orbán government incited hatred against the homeless, the unemployed, and now the refugees. This government went so far as to change the constitution to legalize punishment of homeless people. The government pared back unemployment insurance benefits to only three months. Welfare payments have been cut to practically nothing, while public works programs are used to influence electoral outcomes. And now here are refugees arriving with only the clothes on their backs.

The government is inciting the population against foreigners in general even though in January 2014 only 1.4% of the population consisted of foreign nationals. Although the government talks about the huge numbers of applicants for refugee status, in 2014 only 360 political refugees received permission to stay in Hungary. These incitements are intended to divert attention from the incompetence (and worse) of the government, but their negative effect on the psyche of the population is immeasurable.

A lack of compassion is discernible among Fidesz politicians, even when working-class Hungarians are the victims. The other day a 21-year-old girl was murdered while working in one of the stores allowed to sell tobacco products. Her murderer, a young boy as it turned out, killed her for 22,000 ft. ($80.00). The interiors of these stores cannot be seen from the street. Their windows are covered; the doors are solid and cannot be left open. All that in the mistaken notion that young people, just by glancing at packs of cigarettes through the shop window, will take up smoking. As a result, the number of robberies at these stores has been far above the average. But at least until now no shopkeeper was killed. But here we have the first victim of this ludicrous new law. The owner of the store where the tragedy happened had enough. He decided that he is taking off the protective material from the shop windows of all his stores. He cares not whether it is against the law. He will not endanger the lives of his employees. One death was more than enough.

Will the government change the law which clearly serves no purpose and endangers lives? A reporter for Hír24 was all set this morning to ask the opinion of Fidesz politicians as they arrived in parliament. One after the other, starting with the prime minister, they went by without a word and without the slightest sign of sympathy for the victim. A few muttered that they had no time to say anything. Up to now over 200 comments have appeared commenting on this video, and practically all of them are highly critical of the whole Fidesz lot. One recurring accusation is that they were elected by the people and have an obligation to answer reporters’ questions. Another charge is that these Fidesz politicians refuse to answer because they haven’t yet received their orders from above. They simply don’t know what the “right answer” is. And finally, there are many who believe that Viktor Orbán and his minions are incapable of admitting that their decisions could be wrong. These people also predict that the law will not be changed.

How much does Fidesz’s anti-immigration policy stem from racist prejudices? The first reaction is that it has nothing to do with prejudice. Fidesz is not a racist party. Viktor Orbán is just using the anti-foreign card for political purposes. It is only Jobbik, the far-right neo-Nazi party, that owes its popularity to openly racist, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic ideology. But then what can we make of what happened today at a press conference given by László Pósán, a member of Fidesz since 1992 and a member of parliament from 1998?

Pósán is a historian who became an associate professor of history at the University of Debrecen after receiving his Ph.D. in 2000. He is a medievalist who specializes in the German principalities and has written a book on medieval Germany. This illustrious professor of history told journalists that to allow people of different cultural backgrounds to settle in Hungary would have very serious consequences. After all, what would parents think if their child, returning home from school, “was surrounded by six African blacks making threatening gestures?” Naturally, he fully supports Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration. If this isn’t racism, I don’t know what is.

For good measure he told a few horror stories about the Debrecen internment camp for political refugees. According to him, at one point there was a fight inside of the camp that was so serious that “600 policemen had to be called to the scene.” Well, being a historian myself, I  looked into the 2013 incident in the Debrecen camp. Apparently the camp was terribly overcrowded. Some of the inmates didn’t even have a bed to sleep on. They had to be satisfied with a mattress on the floor of the cafeteria. The fight broke out as a result of a football game between two different groups. As for the number of policeman, Index heard about 100-150, but they could not confirm the number. So much for Pósán’s 600 policemen.

The Debrecen refugee camp in June 2013

The Debrecen refugee camp in June 2013

On the other hand, while I was searching for details about the fight in the Debrecen camp, I found a 2009 article, also by Index, which perhaps tells us more about the real state of affairs than Pósán’s exaggerated story. It was about an Afghan refugee who jumped from a second-floor window, trying to commit suicide. He didn’t die but broke an arm and a leg and damaged his spine. He was to be sent back to Greece and, when the police arrived for him, he jumped. He was first caught in Greece, from where he escaped to Serbia. He was arrested in Serbia and spent 70 days in jail. It was at that point that he headed to Hungary, where he asked for refugee status. He was promised that after ten days he would be sent to Debrecen as a refugee waiting for approval or rejection of his case. Instead, on the thirteenth day after his arrival he was told that he would be sent back to Greece. Apparently, the treatment of refugees in Greece is much worse than in Hungary, and he certainly didn’t want to go back to Afghanistan where he feared for his life. He claimed that his father had already been murdered by the Taliban, and he was afraid that he would be next. His long journey from Afghanistan to Greece, Serbia, and Hungary indicates to me that he was most likely telling the truth. He was not a “megélhetési bevándorló” or, to use Miklós Haraszti’s English rendition, an “occupational immigrant.” A few hours after the suicide attempt 27 Afghan refugees began a hunger strike to protest against and try to escape the fate of deportation.

Viktor Orbán will take care of Hungary’s unwanted immigrants

As many as 900 people may have drowned in the Mediterranean a few days ago in their attempt to enter Europe as illegal immigrants. This tragedy once again focused attention on the serious refugee problem the European Union faces. Thousands of people from war-torn Iraq and Syria have been joining citizens of African countries in dangerous journeys to escape danger and poverty. The EU has been slow to respond to the problem. The extraordinary summit held on Thursday dealt exclusively with those refugees who arrive by boat–admittedly the most pressing, life-threatening problem. But Hungary also receives a large number of applications for settlement in the European Union. The would-be immigrants are largely Kosovars, Syrians, and Iraqis who opted to travel by land across the Balkan peninsula. Their final destination isn’t Hungary but countries in western Europe. Hungary is just a transit point. Nonetheless, Viktor Orbán has been trying to use the immigration issue to his own political advantage.

Orbán’s populist attitude toward immigration has received wide coverage in the press. He appeals to the basest instincts of Hungarians, whose xenophobia is well known. Hungarian commentators point out that his latest suggestions for dealing with the immigrant problem–which currently is no problem at all–echo the ideas of Jobbik. (Jobbik warmly welcomed the prime minister’s new statements about refugee seekers.) Because it is Jobbik that wants to solve all problems by force, something that Viktor Orbán now advocates himself. This way, the argument goes, he hopes to recapture those Fidesz voters who have moved over to Jobbik and to bolster his sagging popularity among the population as a whole.

What are the main features of Orbán’s ideas on immigration? First and foremost, Europe does not need immigrants at all. Second, the European Union should be sealed and defended against intruders by the army. Third, the European Union should not overreach in its immigration/refugee policies. Each country should formulate its own policies and deal with its unwanted immigrants as it best sees fit.

"We need no refugees" Gábor Pápai / Népszava

We need no refugees” Gábor Pápai / Népszava

I will come back to these topics later, but first let me turn to the government “consultation” on immigration.The government will send out eight million questionnaires to the voting-age public, in the expectation that one million will be filled out and returned. The results will be seen only by government officials, if they bother at all with the exercise. The survey asks the following twelve leading questions.

1. How important is the spread of terrorism as far as your own life is concerned?

2. In your opinion could Hungary become the target of terrorism in the next few years?

3. Do you agree that mistaken immigration policies contribute to the spread of terrorism?

4. Did you know that economic immigrants cross the border illegally and that lately their numbers have increased twentyfold?

5. Do you agree with the opinion that economic immigrants endanger the jobs and livelihoods of the Hungarian people [magyar emberek]?

6. In your opinion did Brussels’ policies on immigration and terrorism fail?

7. Would you support the government in its effort to introduce stricter immigration regulations in opposition to Brussels?

8. Would you support a new regulation that would allow the government to place immigrants who illegally entered the country into internment camps?

9. In your opinion should those immigrants who illegally enter the country be returned to their own countries in the shortest possible time?

10. Do you agree that those economic immigrants who stay in Hungary should have to work to cover the cost of their keep?

11. Do you agree that the best means of combating immigration is to give economic assistance to the countries of origin of the immigrants?

12. Do you agree with the government that instead of allocating funds to immigration we should support Hungarian families and those children yet to be born?

I don’t think that I have to comment on this “national consultation.”

Instead, I would like call attention to something that few people have touched upon. In criticizing Orbán, many commentators point to the large number of Hungarians currently working in western Europe, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Are they not “economic immigrants” in the countries where they have settled? The government’s answer is that the two cases cannot be compared. Hungary belongs to the European Union, which allows citizens of member states free movement and equal job opportunities anywhere inside the borders of the EU. Indeed, this is the case, and on this level the Hungarian government has a valid point. But let’s tackle the problem from another angle. Viktor Orbán appeals to a law that allows Hungarians the privilege of free movement. This privilege is an expression of the common will of the European Union. But now Hungary wants to be solely responsible for creating its own immigration policy that would deal with immigrants from outside of the European Union. When it is to his advantage, he appeals to the authority of the European Union, but when it looks as if he has to take joint responsibility for the immigrant issue, he refuses to cooperate.

If, by the way, Viktor Orbán thinks that immigrants from Eastern European countries are always welcomed by the population in countries of western Europe, he is very wrong. Just yesterday Austrian right-wingers demanded that the government introduce a quota system to keep Hungarians out of the country. They claim that there are enough of them as it is. And Orbán’s friend, British Prime Minister David Cameron, hasn’t shown himself to be exactly a friend of immigrants who come from the eastern periphery of the EU. In general, one can say that immigrants are unpopular, especially in economically difficult times. They are blamed for accepting jobs for less money and taking away the livelihoods of the natives. This is true now, and it was even true in countries, like Canada, where a large number of Hungarians settled in 1956.

As for the generosity of the Hungarian government, let me tell you about a Kurdish family who has lived in Hungary for the last seventeen years. The couple has three children, the oldest of whom is 18. The two younger ones were born in Hungary. Last year the office handling immigration issues refused to give the family permission to settle in Hungary. It was only two days ago that the court ordered a review of the case. The classmates of the older daughter wrote a heart-wrenching letter, pleading with the court not to expel their classmate from the country. So much for the famously Christian country.